SpaceX Says Falcon 9 Performed as Planned on Zuma Launch

Falcon 9 launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has issued a statement concerning the Falcon 9 launch of the classified Zuma payload, which reports say was lost:

For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.

Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.

Reports indicate that the satellite’s builder, Northrop Grumman, provided its own payload adapter. So, if the satellite failed to separate from the second stage as reports indicate, the problem lay with the adapter and not the Falcon 9.

The Joint Space Operations Center did enter an object from the launch into its master catalog. That would indicate the satellite did enter orbit; however, it might not still be in orbit.

  • windbourne

    Problem is, the anti-musk group is out there with as many lies as possible. It just never stops.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yup, you can see it in full force over the last 24 hours and no amount of logic or facts around mission details (mating adapter and payload integration) which change this. And they will weaponize the reality that SpaceX’s hands are tied on responding any more than they have already.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Unless there’s an official admission either way, at this point we should just focus on observables. We know the second stage maneuvered to a higher orbit and performed a propellant dump to prepare for a reentry in the designated impact zone. That’s all we KNOW everything else is speculation or sourced from very unreliable sources. So what do we use as a good information source? Something tied to money, something tied to established programs that are stake holders. If SX lost a national security payload, someone is not going to get paid. Look for financial troubles at SX, NG or both. If it was SX’s fault, there will be a stand down that will last weeks to months. F Heavy may fly because maybe any problem with the 2nd stage does not apply to the test goals of the Heavy flight. However if there is a problem you can bet the commercial customers will care. Another item to look for if it was SX’s problem is an increase in insurance premiums for Falcon launches. But the biggie will be a failure review board. We won’t see into the review board, nor will we know that it happens. However SX is going to get dinged for process. Or more to the point lack of process. That will hit them hard. And it will effect their ability to obtain future launch contracts, and existing contracts may get shuffled over to ULA. A ding on process is also going to affect their NASA work. So the things I’m look for in the coming weeks and months are ….

    1) Slowdown, cessation of launch cadence.
    2) Increase in insurance premiums.
    3) Halt in obtaining new government contracts.
    4) Transferal of government payloads to other EELV.
    5) No manned flights of Dragon this year, or much delayed.
    6) SX beefing up their documentation, tracking, and quality assurance process.

    If we see these things, or a combination of these things, we’ll know the payload was lost, and that SX was inculcated in the loss. If we don’t see these things, and SX picks up and runs with their 2018 schedule, then we still won’t know what happened. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • ThomasLMatula

    The test will come shorty as SpaceX has two launches scheduled for the end of the month followed next month by another pair. If they are not rescheduled then Falcon 9 was not at fault.

  • It will take 40 years or so before we definitely know what happened with this one. Which really makes any media speculation (non public announcement data) hilarious.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The real linchpin for me is the government launches. If SX is at fault the commercial customers with clearances will learn what the problem is (if there is one), and may decide to fly anyway. The problem may be very esoteric. Once a failure review board finds fault, that has repercussions in the gov contracting space that hits much harder. SX could lose it’s rating for DOD launches and NASA may have their rating for SX dependent on the DOD rating. The big shoe I’m expecting to fall is the DOD hitting SX for lack of process control no matter if that fed into any failure or not. While that will effect government ratings, I don’t think a commercial house wold let that bother them given past performance.

  • duheagle

    But we will know that, whatever happened, it wasn’t SpaceX’s fault. I don’t expect any of the items on your laundry list to actualize.

    The knee-jerk reflex of so many – including, it would seem, you – to lay this on SpaceX seems utterly irrational in view of Northrop Grumman being the builders of both the payload and the non-standard payload adapter. This is the same outfit whose space division has been busily screwing the pooch for years on various aspects of JWST’s development.

    If Zuma really was a one-off that took years to build and cost billions – and it actually did fail – then I think even atheists like me might want to offer a prayer or two for the success of JWST.

  • duheagle

    You certainly assume a great deal on the basis of no credible evidence whatsoever.

  • Robert G. Oler

    we will know before…my guess it is in orbit

  • Robert G. Oler

    that is an enormous leap

  • Robert G. Oler

    or many but I think Zuma is in orbit

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    We’re both speculating. Funny how you accuse me speculation, which is true, but at least it’s based on past spaceflight experience. Meanwhile you conclude with a very direct finding of fault using the very same lack … I don’t know … direct insight, that you accuse me of lacking. Let’s see what comes of it. Last year I thought that SX would have a huccup while picking up the launch rate while making changes to Falcon, and you took me to task for it. I didn’t do too bad. Let’s see what comes of this.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You did not read my post. I am not blaming SX. I’m saying that no matter what the fault is or where it lies, the review board will probably find fault with their process. If the review board makes that finding that effects SX’s rating in their ability to bid certain contracts or even for existing contracts to execute. Trigger happy today aren’t we?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Yes but we’re all speculating in what is promised to be a deep information vacuum. And let’s face it, we’re afraid of the consequence for SX. If NG is at fault, who cares, we know they won’t die, but SX can be made to pay a real price. I’m only pointing out effects we’ll see in the open world to give insight to what may have happened. As for my worries that SX gets dinged in a failure review even if it’s not directly mechanically germane to the failure. It’s because I’ve observed these processes and when I worked on space missions in the past you can see what’s being emphasized in a failure review based on the documentation for your process. There’s a lot of finger pointing that happens on these things and one of the first things that happens is each group under investigation has to describe their quality control and documentation process in order to look for places where things might have gone wrong but you were blind to. If SX is using commercial QC processes, that will be an opening for them to be taken to task.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Decent possibility. It may even be working. Nothing like declaring it a total loss to get people arguing among themselves on social media and in the press about where the “fault” lies to distract folks from guessing about its mission. The arguments will die down in a few weeks and they’ll stop thinking about the latest piece of space junk. Meanwhile, Zuma just circles the Earth doing its thing.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Spot on, Terry, let’s call it the Roswell Defence. ๐Ÿ™‚ Regards, Paul.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Think about it. SpaceX webcasts the launch but only shows the first stage after separation. They report that the second stage functioned as expected and the payload fairing separated as it should. That’s the last anyone heard of Zuma until a pilot takes a picture of the second stage venting fuel exactly where it should have in preparation for de-orbit. If there was a problem with separation, wouldn’t they have allowed more time to keep trying to separate the payload from the second stage? Next we hear absolutely nothing until we get a report that Zuma was dead and the mission a failure. Now the argument starts and we start believing what we’re told to believe. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but if you want to start a really secret space mission I can’t think of a better plan.

  • Paul_Scutts

    I personally find this whole spy v spy stuff and cutting short of coverage for security reasons insulting to the average person’s intelligence. Certain people, like amateur astronomers, know exactly where this thing has ended up, but, I guess for personal security reasons, generally say zip. I call it the Roswell Defence – put out so much dis-information about an event that actual the truth of the matter becomes impossible to be determined (by the average person).

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    They come from all angles and all affiliations, too. It’s kinda crazy, but I guess you’re not making omelets if you’re not ruffling feathers and cracking eggs.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    F-117 crash in Nevada 1984, press speculated it was a F-19 (Revell model corp even put out a model kit of ‘it’.), USAF said nothing to correct it. It’s been done before.

  • windbourne

    so many ppl do not recall the Russian sat that recently failed and then some 3 months afterwards, 3 small satellites left the ‘wreckage’ and was spotted by an amateur astronomer.
    Best way to hide your capabilities is to simply misdirect. Sometimes, it involves having ppl make up conspiracy theories that give you far better capabilities than you have,OR simply making it look like it was destroyed, but is instead hidden.

  • joy kirkwood
  • WhoAmI

    Classic… Check out at 1:08 in this video where CBS describes where the satellite was located on the Falcon rocket. http://cbsn.ws/2mekbeF

  • duheagle

    I read just fine. Unless your notional review board is simply a smokescreen for efforts by Congressional friends of the aerospace ancien regime to stick it to SpaceX – which even I’m not quite ready to assume – any comments it might make anent SpaceX’s “process” will be irrelevant if data reveal the fault to lie with what Northrop Grumman brought to the party. I guess if one wants to be brutally pedantic, one could still criticize SpaceX’s “process” for allowing it to accept pig-in-a-poke payloads, but even that seems a stretch.

  • duheagle

    Given that USAF has apparently assigned Zuma a catalog number in its inventory of orbital objects, you may well be right.

  • duheagle

    We are both speculating. I don’t indict you for that, I indict you for the airy-fairy-ness of your speculation. In particular, your seeming certitude – based on no evidence you seem able to adduce – that SpaceX just must be using inferior “process” compared to the real masters of these matters, i.e., NASA and the legacy aerospace majors such as the serially snake-bitten Northrop Grumman.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Are you implying some sot of subterfuge?, and if so, for what purpose?.

  • Robert G. Oler

    has anyone done an analysis of what the upper bound is on the mass that the payload could have been to a 900KM orbit at 50degrees?

    there are a few things that (I dont know) which would be interesting to know

    1. Does SpaceX normally spin the second stage for its reentry? this is a classic manuever to make sure that destruction is complete…but I would wonder if they normally did it. If not and this was special then I would go with “the probe went down with the second stage”

    2. I think that this is the normal lifetime for hte second stage after a payload deploy if there is a destruction burn…my guess is the batteries wont last much longer. Is that correct?

    3. I bet you the normal “get off the second stage” for the payload is quicker then 2 hours…so by the time the second stage was seen the payload was in my view probably long gone…and if so I bet it had its own engine and went into a higher orbit

    PURE speculation but since I am on a role doing that.

    what I think that the payload was, was a new type of optical recee satellite which has deployable mirrors…

  • Jeff2Space

    The WSJ headline is particularly misleading. But that’s to be expected given the author.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Failure reviews are run by people and institutions with agendas. And the people who are on them are advocates for their organizations who pursue the interests of their organizations with much vigor. They’re professionals with all that’s good, and all that’s bad that goes with it. When money is involved and posturing for future access to it, you know as well as I do that professionals cannot express or act on the natural conflict that arises when the needs of your organization conflict with the truth. It’s a problem all institutions suffer from.

  • duheagle

    In a case with this high a profile, I don’t think any one organization is likely to dominate. There are, for example, a minimum of three such organizations directly involved in the mission in question: SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and whatever government agency commissioned Zuma in the first place. There are at least three others – USAF, NASA and NRO – with significant collateral interests in finding real answers, assuming the story of Zuma’s failure is also real.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I think you’re right. NG has the obvious need to protect itself, and the government want’s to protect mission assurance at least and any number of other interests depending on agency, administration (if that matters), and then individuals holding office. From the governments point of view comes this. Many times you don’t know what really causes a failure. This happens a lot when you’re operating systems that are engineered outside the realm of theory. The F-1 (Saturn V) was just such a beast. When you’re operating outside of theory your spiral to operational status was done using a blind man approach by feeling your way forward. So you get something that works, but your knowledge as to why it works is very limited. So process and repeatability, and metering that repeatability and adherence to process is key to mission success in an environment where deviations from what’s tested may not be predictable. At least from the governments point of view. So the government pushes process blindly. It’s part of the governments agenda, and when things go wrong, it’s part of their default look up table to execute in times of emergency. That’s the engineering fact based part of the process, you have to mix in with that the politics of the institutions and people.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Boy, on this one I can go long or short. I think on the long reply many of the points I’d want to make are covered on other replies of this thread. So in the short reply, I’ll throw it right back at you. In most of your statements on this issue you’ve inculcated NG with even less elaboration than I have. You’ve not defended that assertion with much depth. Granted there’s not much to go off of. But it comes across to me that you’re defending your libertarian viewpoint that the private sector is by nature better than the government sector. If it was NG’s error, my bet is they documented their process enough to inculcate themselves. We know from past failures that SX does not (The He tank strut problem, then the He tank failure with super-chilled LOX, and the pad malfunctions back in the Falcon 1 era). Compounding that is SX’s willingness to change a working system. Again, I understand the need, but there’s a price that comes with that. This flight was the first flight after a engineering review of a new fairing design, that may be a factor in this. If SX’s documentation process leaves any failure review process blind to the effects of changes like that, they will pay a price for that in the blame game if there was a mission failure. … damn, it’s long again. Sorry.

  • I think the real point is that WE were never going to know the function of Zuma and therefore even identifying it in orbit would illicit challenging speculation about it’s purpose. I think it is great that our security works and that deception may be a part of it.

    And as others have stated, the evidence of a failure will eventually show up based on the source of the failure. NG, SX, DOD or the insurers will have to explain a billion $$$$ loss. It will be hard to hide this information in a public corp and there are elected officials who will go after the “waste’ in the Defense budget.

    Speculating is a great mental exercise though pretty useless. But fun, isn’t it.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Along your line of thought, there is this. Probably the first credible source of informed quotable information. Iridium has cleared personnel with a need to know. At this point I assume that information has gone to form corporate opinion. There’s no way there was a review board yet, but there is a NTSB initial opinion by this point, and it seems to point to NG.

    http://fortune.com/2018/01/12/spacex-northrop-grumman-iridium-zuma-satellite/